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Stafford railway memories

By Staffordshire Newsletter  |  Posted: June 08, 2014

  • The Great Northern Junction in Stafford.

  • Wantage Hall standing in Gnosall Station.

  • Haughton Station closed to passengers in 1949.

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STAFFORD, a “long straggling town with short streets branching out of the main thoroughfare which bear curious names” . . . . it may not be the description you would give the county town, but that is how Bradshaw saw it.

Bradshaw, of course, was the man who gave his name to a railway guide recently popularised in a television series fronted by former MP and cabinet minister Michael Portillo.

In 1866, Bradshaw listed three major hotels in Stafford - the Swan, Vine and Grand Junction - and noted that the town had one market day, Saturday, and that boots and shoes “were the chief articles of manufacture”.

The railway line which ran from Newport to Stafford to Shrewsbury had opened in 1849, built by the Shropshire Union Railway and Canal Company and remained in its ownership until 1923 although operated by the LNWR.

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Nationalisation of the railways in 1948 saw a continuation of its regular freight and passenger services until September 7, 1964, though open for through trains until August 1, 1966.

Can you believe that for more than 70 years trains ran from Newport to Stafford every morning between 6.20 and 7.09? They have been replaced by a bus service and the inevitable increase in traffic on the A5 18.

The infamous Dr Richard Beeching had wielded his “axe” on much of the national rail network, almost eliminating any trace of it from our countryside - but failed to remove it from the public memory.

And for those needing a reminder, Vic Mitchell and Keith Smith have just published a book in their Country Railway Routes series which recalls the Stafford to Wellington route and includes the Coalport branch.

It is a fascinating 96-page pictorial guide of its stations, the line and the trains which ran on them, with many hitherto unpublished pictures including a splendid shot of 5962 Wantage Hall.

By now those who take a keen interest in railway history will question whether GWR stock ever appeared on this route but the Hall class locomotive was diverted via Stafford on its journey to Wolverhampton low-level from Shrewsbury when the bridge was being built at Shifnal c1960.

When the line closed, the powers that be opined that it was unwanted - and the same may be said when the two authors in 1981 approached various publishing houses with their ideas for a series of books.

Vic Mitchell tells us that in sheer frustration, he and his co-author then decided to self-publish and the result is that since then more than 300 titles have been published by the Middleton Press from its base in West Sussex.

Incidentally, the partners are currently planning a similar book embracing the Market Drayton area and would welcome any contributions of unusual railway photographs snapped in that area (call 01730 813169).

Stafford to Wellington is published by Middleton Press as a hardback priced £17.95. Its ISBN number is 978 1 908174 59 8.

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